Injured missionary: 'Fear won't stop me'

In early March, Sister Pam Norby walked up behind her husband, Elder Richard Norby, as he sat at a table in their Brussels, Belgium, apartment and prepared for a mission conference in the country. She wrapped her arms around her senior missionary companion’s neck.

“Do you think our family,” she asked him, “is strong enough to not be shaken with anything that can come our way?”

He smiled and tapped her hand reassuringly. “I think we’ll be fine,” he said.

The sweet sense of peace the Norbys shared that morning was tested severely a week later, on March 22, when a terrorist detonated a suicide bomb near Elder Norby and three other missionaries at the Delta checkout counter in the Brussels airport. The injuries were severe. Nails and jagged metal shredded Elder Norby’s neck, back and legs and second- and third-degree burns covered 35 percent of his body.

He tried to get up and run for safety, but fell. He tried again, but fell again. That’s when he realized his left leg and heel were broken. After he sat on the airport floor amid screaming, scared victims, doctors at a Brussels hospital placed him in a medically induced coma for several days. Once it was safe to revive him, doctors on both sides of the Atlantic continued for months to work to save his left leg.

More than four months later, and a week after Brother Norby thrilled his family and brought them to tears by taking his first unassisted steps since the attack, he and his wife count miracles and share the peace they find in the gospel of Jesus Christ with their five children, their children’s spouses and their 16 grandchildren.

“We have been fine,” Sister Norby said. “Shaken for a moment, but fine. It’s one of those defining moments, where we can look back and know that things will be OK with what you know, with the testimony you have.”

Brother Norby has gathered his family to share his testimony, strengthened as a young missionary in the Franco-Belgian Mission in the 1960s. His mission president was Elder James Paramore, who while he was executive secretary to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged Brother Norby to become a seminary teacher. Brother Norby served more than 30 years in the Church Educational System as a seminary teacher, trainer and administrator, when he shared the gospel with thousands of students. He also served as president of the Church’s Ivory Coast Abidjan Mission from 2003 to 2005.

“It’s not God’s fault,” he said to his family about the bombing after he had returned to the United States in April. “We don’t blame Him.”

Beyond aligning his will with the Lord’s, Brother Norby is determined to follow Jacob’s advice in the Book of Mormon about using his agency to choose the way he responds to what he and his wife call their “new normal,” a life with scars, a life in which their mission was cut short by a year, a life in which some things cannot ever be the same.

Some people ask him if life as the victim of a terrorist attack has made him fearful. They ask if he is scared to return to Belgium. That’s when he turns to Jacob’s counsel in 2 Nephi. He tells them he still is free to act and not to be acted upon. He has chosen to rely on the Lord and not fear.

“I’m not a victim,” he said. “I’m a survivor. Fear won’t stop me from going to Europe or an airport or accepting refugees. If we become more fearful, we’re being acted upon. I’m going to live my life, and I’m going to teach my children and grandchildren that we put our trust in God.”

He does have a new perspective. He can empathize with those whose loved ones have died in a terror attack and those who have survived one.

“I know what that feels like, to be in the hospital, to be burned and broken,” he said.

He considers the Brussels airport an Ebenezer, a sacred and holy place of remembrance where the Lord saved him and the three young missionaries with him: Sister Fanny Clain of Réunion Island, France; Elder Mason Wells of Sandy, Utah; and Elder Joseph Dresden Empey of Santa Clara, Utah.

Now living with Sister Norby in an apartment a block north of the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, he smiles throughout his frequent visits to doctors, quizzing nurses and assistants about their lives and work.

He wakes up each morning, he said, looking forward to simple things like breakfast, and to the vast pleasure of more time with his wife and the rest of his family.

“How could it get better than what this is? I just love life,” he said. “I could not be happier than I am today.”

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